2010-09-23 / Local & State

PA Lawmaker Seeks Training For ‘Taps’ Players

By Andrew McGill

HELLERTOWN, Pa. (AP) – LeRohn Deysher is one busy bugler.

He is one of the few musicians in the area trained to play at military funerals. Hardly a week goes by that he’s not asked to come out and perform taps. He’s attended 147 graveside ceremonies so far this year, sometimes six in a single week.

“I cover the Lehigh Valley pretty well,’’ the 88-year-old from Hellertown said. “I’m very dedicated to it. I feel a sense of pride when I do it.’’

Unfortunately, in a decade that’s seeing more and more World War II veterans dying with fewer colleagues left to honor them, there aren’t enough LeRohn Deyshers to go around.

For some musically strapped VFW and American Legion posts, including Allentown VFW Post 2124, the mournful tones of the iconic brass bugle have been replaced by a push-button electronic replica.

That doesn’t sit well with state Rep. Bryan Lentz, a Delaware County Democrat and Iraq war veteran. He introduced legislation asking schools to train students to play taps before the tradition dies out.

“Everybody that served their country deserves military honors, and military honors include the playing of taps,’’ he said. “I want to make sure there are people available who know how to play it.’’

In a resolution signed this month by 26 other legislators, Lentz called on the state education secretary to require Pennsylvania schools to provide training in the 24- note dirge.

Outlining a brief history of the bugle call it was adapted from an old bugle signal for “lights out’’ during the Civil War – the lawmaker highlighted the pressing need to refill the ranks of military trumpeters.

Reps. Karen Beyer, RLehigh, and Richard Grucela, D-Northampton, both signed on their support.

“It doesn’t take much. You definitely need a musician to do it and to do it right,’’ said Beyer, an Air Force veteran. “What better pool of resources than our public schools?’’

Lentz joins a small but vocal community waging war against electronic bugles, which critics deride as cheap imitations unbefitting a military service. Essentially a bugle casing with a speaker hidden inside, the so-called “ceremonial’’ instrument allow amateurs to mime playing with the push of a button.

To bugle purists, that’s worse than having a boom box replace the bells of Notre Dame. No one would accept a pre-recorded sermon or a rifle salute with toy guns, said bugler Robert Goodman of Mechanicsburg, Cumberland County, who is seeking support for a state fund to pay for proper musical accompaniment.

An active follower of an online bugling web forum, he says at least 10 states provide funding for military funerals, including Maryland and Kentucky. But some local posts have given him a cool reception, protective of their ceremonies and insistent that mourners can’t tell the difference.

“There’s something insidious about having artificially canned music at occasions in which the person who was a veteran is going to honored for the last time,’’ Goodman said. “I studied the trumpet for six years and played for 40 years. I think there’s a difference.’’

Locally, veterans organizations say they’ve had a tough time drumming up trumpeters for area funerals. Allentown VFW Post 2124 used to havea high school student play regularly, but organizers gave in and bought a $500 electronic bugle when he moved away several years ago.

Many musicians nowadays want money to play, post Junior Vice Commander Harry Krieger said, and he doesn’t feel right asking grieving families for a donation.

After all, the World War II veteran has other things to worry about: It’s hard enough to find post members to fill out an honor guard, he said.

“A lot of the older ones, health-wise, they can’t come like they used to,’’ Krieger said. “We’d like to get some of the younger vets; they’re not interested anymore. The ones from Iraq and Afghanistan, they don’t want to be bothered.’’

Lentz wrote a similar resolution in 2007 and says he’ll do it again until someone takes notice. As for Deysher, one of the last buglers left in the Lehigh Valley, well, he’s already played 2,520 times. He’s willing to play a few more if it keeps the canned music out.

“Probably the family, they wouldn’t even notice the difference,’’ he said. “To the trained ear, it’s very obvious.’’

Return to top